Website of the Laceby History Group

Women's Land Army - Laceby in World War 2

'0 give me land lots of land under starry skies above, don't fence me in' were lines in a popular song which the Laceby Land Army girls often sang as they returned to their Caistor Road hostel or private lodging in the village.

'Abstainers Cottage' opposite the chapel (now the Youth Centre) was the wartime home for an army of young women who because of the 2nd world war were employed by the Lindsey War Agricultural Executive Committee, to work on local farms.

All sorts of girls were thrown together to get along as best they could. Some were well suited for the life; others such as the London model who found herself working on an Aylesby farm you would think could never acclimatize. But get along they did, some so well that they are still visiting or corresponding to this day.

Amongst the girls employed in the Laceby area were:-

Joan Brewin
Jean Burnett
Margaret Cawkwell
Phyllis Chessman
Gladys Farman
Mary Foster
Molly Garson
Peggy Hurl
Frances Kirk
Joy Edwards
Barbara Parker
Winnie Senior
Marian Snowden
Flo Spreckley
May Sweeting
Eileen Toogood
Betty Wells
Edna Mosey
Doris ?
Vera ?

The uniform, which most girls said they liked but some hated, was variously described as 'unattractive', shirts as 'dishcloths', hats as 'reminiscent of boarding schools' and great-coats as 'suitable only for maternity wear' but was eminently suitable for farmwork. They were issued with a working gear of:-

2 prs. dungarees with bib & brace top - fawn

2 short sleeved aertex shirts - fawn

1 smock · type jacket - fawn

1 pair wellington boots - black but mostly dung covered

1 rubberized raincoat - self

2 pairs knee-length socks - brown

Kangol beret - green

Gaiters and 1 leather belt

For weekends off, walking out and cadging lifts home:-

1 pair corduroy knee breeches - fawn

1 pair flat-heeled lace- up shoes - brown

1 woollen, knitted, V-neck pullover - green

1 tie - green with red WLA embroidered on

1 felt, wide-brimmed hat - fawn with band & a metal badge of a wheat sheaf surmounted by a crown

1 armband to be worn on the great-coat on which embroidered service diamonds were sewn

There were 8 - 10 girls at a time living in the hostel on Caistor Road with another 4 or S boarded out with local farmers Coulson and Spilman or in other farmworkers' homes. Most worked as dairy maids for in 1942 there was an acute shortage of milk.

The large herd of milking cows on Mr. Coulson's farm (opposite the present shops on Caistor Road) was milked 3 times a day using machinery, with the first one at 6am. The girls rose at Sam in summer to 'bring the cows up'. This afforded the opportunity for some girls to pick the mushrooms in the top field which now has part of Charles Avenue and St. Peter's Grove on it. The 2nd milking was at 2pm and the 3rd at 6pm. Their working hours were generally 8 a day split to cover the milking periods, for 6! days sometimes 7 days a week.

Their only training was 2 or 4 weeks on the job for which they received 10/- (50p) per week. They had to put up with mud, cows' horns, leg-pulling from the other farmworkers, unfamiliar machinery and worst of all derision & discrimination.

The first laughable attempts at hand-milking which had to be learnt for cows which had recently calved and finishing off the machine milkers, brought tears to the eyes of the farmer if not the cows! Warnings to 'mind it's back leg' and 'keep your knees tightly round the bucket' and 'keep clear of it's tail end' were heeded and practised . But what was hard to grasp in moreways than one was, according to one girl, was 'it's thingies ' Also, what to do with' the thingies' when you had grasped them!

Tears of laughter flowed with the milk in the early days of inexperience and the amateur milk girls' weren't the only brown eyes rolled heavenwards!

Life on the farm was anything but smooth. Phyllis Chessman recalls a painful kick from a cow, cutting her eyebrow and leaving a scar which she bears to this day. The memory of a rat running up her leg still gives Marian Snowden the shudders and recalls that she had luckily pulled her socks over her trousers that day. Joan Brewin remembers working 'all hours' during harvest time and bringing the last load into Spilman's stackyard at dusk with lamps swinging on the cart. She also says that the WLA girls were usually given the dirtiest job at threshing time which was the chaff-hole and 'by the end of the day we looked like chimney sweeps but at least we got the first baths back at the hostel'. Joan says the Warden had strict rules and 'if we were in late at night (10.30) she locked the back door and we stayed there til she thought we'd learned our lesson then she would let us in, more often than not without a drink and it was straight to bed'.

The day that sticks in Molly Green's memory was when they were working down Lopham Lane and a low-flying spitfire came over. So low that they saw and waved to the pilot. Then they saw it's wing tip clip a tree branch which forced it to crash into Irby Hill.

Peggy Hurl always looked forward to Thursday late pass evening when they went into Grimsby for the cinema, a dance or the ice rink down "Ladysmith Road. There was usually a dance in the Church Hall in Laceby on a Saturday which was well patronised.

Frances (Nan) Kirk would have chosen to go in the WRAF had there been a vacancy. WLA was a 2nd choice but she didn't regret it . Edna had been brought up on a farm and the life of a Land Army girl fitted her like a glove. One girl got fed up and left to go in the ATS.

Besides milking and charting yields, the girls were expected to plant and pick potatoes, stook corn, do jobs around the threshing machine, hoeing, haymaking, leading horses, stacking, tractoring & waggoning, in fact anything that the men did. For the equal work they received unequal pay. Male farm workers in 1940 received £1-18s and WLA girls £1-7s.

Boyfriends weren't allowed in the Laceby hostel by Miss A.M.Smith the Warden/Cook but it is rumoured that windows were left open by naughty girls and naughty boys climbed in. There was a Youth Club at the rear of the Waterloo where fraternising occurred also Charlie's chip shop was handy and a great meeting place with free seating on the low wall opposite to enjoy your supper.

Many WLA girls married Laceby boys, including Molly Green (Alec Sowden), Phyllis Chessman (Alan Douse), Joan Brewin (Dennis Wiseman), Frances Kirk (Les Atkin from Aylesby), Edna (Alf Wright).

They did get a break occasionally; one week's holiday per year with pay or if they were ill with a week's recuperation afterwards. We have a photo of Phyllis at Llandudno on recuperation leave after an illness and she was wearing her uniform. When asked 45 years later why that was so, she said, "We were just so short of clothes in the war and the uniform was free and would be replaced when worn out!"

What did they get when they left the Service? They had the opportunity of buying their greatcoat provided they dyed it navyblue, plus a certificate with a personnal message from Queen Elizabeth. Nan still has hers and it reads:-

'I wish to express to you Miss Frances Kirk, WLA 93944 my appreciation of your loyalty and devoted service as a member of the WLA from 7.8.42 - 8.4.48. Your unsparing efforts at a time when the victory of our cause depended on the utmost use of resources of our land have earned for you the country's gratitude'. Elizabeth R.

The Women's Land Army was disbanded in 1950 and so they handed in their wellies and returned to their different lives. Edna lives in Laceby after working the whole 3.5 years of her WLA service at Manor Farm, Aylesby. Joan who also worked at Aylesby has been living at Gainsborough. Peggy became a librarian and an accomplished artist and is now living in Cleethorpes. Nan lives in Aylesby and still has some of her uniform. Phyllis regularly visits Laceby from her home at Market Rasen. Miss Smith lives at Grimoldby. Eileen recently visited the Spilmans from her home down south. Marian, who remembers her number was 54825 recalls that her lodging at Mr. & Mrs. Sowden's on Caistor Road was 'heaven-sent and just like home'. She lives in Keighley. Molly who lodged with Mr. & Mrs. Porter, then Mrs. F.Allenby lives in Louth. May Sweeting and Phyllis Chessman after working together on Coulson's farm still continue the friendship they struck up 50 years ago. Such is life

The WLA was reborn on 1st July 1939 after its service during WW1 and by the outbreak of WW2 (September 1939) 17,000 women had enrolled. In Sadie Ward's book 'War in the Countryside' she gives reasons for the need of a land army. The main ones being 2 decades of rural depopulation combined with intensive army recruitment and conscription which left a deficit of 50,000 farmworkers.

The famous author A.G.Street of Farmers Glory fame doubted that most of them could cope with ploughs & tractors etc. 'the average girl is not fitted for such work'. Little would he guess that many farmers said afterwards that those girls were instrumental in winning the war on the home front.

W.R.Nicholson said, 'They cannot do any heavy work on the farm and there is not a great deal of light work . . . The idea of substituting women for men on a farm is absurd'.

Brenda Anderson. 1991